Before the Lord the whole universe is as a grain on a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth. But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sin that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it, or the preserved, had it not been called forth by you? But you spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things! Therefore you rebuke offenders little by little, warn them and remind them of the sins they are committing, that they may abandon their wickedness and believe in you, O Lord!(P) The word of the Lord.
I will extol you, O my God and King, and I will bless your name forever and ever. Every day will I bless you, and I will praise your name forever and ever. (R)
The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works. (R)
Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord, and let your faithful ones bless you. Let them discourse of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might. (R)
The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works. The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down. (R)
Brothers and sisters: We always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose and every effort of faith, that the name of Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.
We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a "spirit", or by an oral statement, or by letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.(P) The word of the Lord.
At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way.
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner," But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today's gospel story is perhaps one of the many interesting Bible stories that most of us are quite familiar with. Nevertheless, I would like to retell the story to enhance our understanding of the text and event. Jesus is going to Jerusalem. On the way he is passing through a town called Jericho. He has no plans to stay there. In the town there is a man named Zacchaeus, an abbreviation of Zechariah, meaning "the righteous one". But the name is incongruous for Zacchaeus for he is a tax collector for the Roman Empire. In Jesus' time tax collectors were allegedly notorious for collecting as much tax as they want from the people. Whatever the tax collectors have collected over the stipulated amount, they kept for themselves. So the people saw them as crooks and traitors. Because of their job and wealth Zacchaeus and other tax collectors were despised and hated by the people. Much worse Zacchaeus as a chief tax collector probably was getting most of the ill-gotten gains and so was loathed by all.
One day Zacchaeus hears that Jesus is coming through his town. He wants to see Jesus. But he is too short to see Jesus because of the crowd. Despite his stature he is determined to see him for he knows that even though he is wealthy and successful, something is missing in his life. He realizes that only Jesus can fill this emptiness. Something within him desperately hopes that seeing Jesus would make a difference in his life. So he runs ahead and climbs a tree to see Jesus. He overcomes two great obstacles - internal and external. The external obstacle involves the crowd and his physical handicap. Internal obstacle comes from fear and embarrassment. His action of climbing a tree to see Jesus may just be to satisfy his curiosity but at the same time is daring as he is one of the most prominent and wealthiest men in the city of Jericho. This might be that deep down he has a seated need to come to Jesus and allows nothing to prevent him from doing so.
As he is eagerly waiting to get at least a glimpse of Jesus, something fascinating happens. Jesus all of a sudden stops, looks up and sees Zacchaeus on the tree. Jesus knows his desire, his sin and potential. For Jesus there is nothing more urgent than salvation. So Jesus calls him by name, "Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house." Of course, Zacchaeus is overjoyed. He excitedly comes down from the tree and humbly welcomes Jesus into his home. But the people are unhappy that Jesus associates with sinners like Zacchaeus and also perhaps jealous that an unworthy man is given the honour of the presence of Jesus. They grumble against Jesus as well as Zacchaeus. But Zacchaeus' attention is completely upon Jesus. Maybe he has been longing for a new and different life for a long time but lacks the power to change. Now he sees an opportunity and seizes it. Zacchaeus realizing the shame he is brining upon his guest offers to give half of his wealth to the poor and compensate anyone he has wronged. He volunteers to pay back four times the amount he has cheated them of. Throughout the time Jesus also ignores the criticisms and demands of the crowd and focuses on the one person who is there to listen and grow and change. Jesus sees Zacchaeus' act of genuine repentance and declares that he is a worthy son of Abraham who requires forgiveness and acceptance from God and others.
Friends, we can learn several lessons from this story.
If you are like Zacchaeus who seems pretty happy and quite successful in life but feel deep down inside that you are missing something then please know that all you need is Jesus. If we will go to Him, as He passes by, He will fill that emptiness with His presence. Let us remember that without Jesus Christ, we are nothing and can do nothing. In the gospel of John (15:5) we read Jesus saying, "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing." Friends, we may try to fill the emptiness with all kinds of things like food, drinks, entertainment, leisure and people but as Saint Augustine says, "our heart is restless until it rests in Him because He has made us for Himself". When we do realize that Jesus is the only hope we have then we will go to Him. However, there are obstacles both external and internal we have to overcome.
The first obstacle between us and Jesus is the crowd. Atheists, non-believers and non-Christians try to take away our beliefs and faith. Even people who are close to us and part of our faith try to keep us from seeing Jesus and believing in Jesus. The lifestyles of priests and fellow believers can be barriers to our faith. These are temptations that make us want to give up our faith in Jesus. Hence, as Saint Paul says, we must "put on the full armor of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics", Ephesians (6:11).
The second obstacle between us and Jesus is the feeling of guilt and fear. We must courageously and confidently deal with sin, particularly with pride and greed and get right with God. We must be willing to make sacrifices. Jesus is worth any sacrifice. He appreciates every effort we make to see him. Just as we seek to see Jesus, Jesus is also seeking us for he loves us and wants to save us and all who are lost. This is how it always comes about. We take one step toward Jesus He takes two steps toward us. Jesus knows our deepest desire. When He sees our desire to seek Him, He stops to redeem us regardless of every obstacle that stands between him and us. He shows mercy and compassion for us. If we will come to Him, He will save us regardless of who we are, where we have been or what we have done. He grants salvation to all. Salvation does not just refer to going to heaven after death but also brings us peace and joy the greatest gifts in the world. Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you, my own peace I give you, a peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid", John (14:27). We may not fully understand or realize how important it is to go to Jesus for salvation, peace and joy but once you get to him you will have Him for eternity. His gifts of joy and peace cannot be replaced by anything else in this world. His is an everlasting joy. If we base our joy on things, places and people, our joy will pass away, because those things, places and people will also pass away. However, when Jesus is the source of our joy, it will abide forever, because He will abide in us as well.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!